“Reverence” by Marianne Kunkel

Marianne Kunkel


My son … thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
—Alma 39:3, The Book of Mormon

To runners, a trail is church.

I heard a pastor say church is its people.

My father prays when he sees a rare finch.

Every Sunday, my teenage nieces cuddle
in bed with their parents, watch TV,
call this church.

Lazy Sunday morning sex can feel sacred.

My husband and I watch Mr. Rogers
with a box of Kleenex.
Why is Mr. McFeely
so frenzied when Mr. Rogers
has the much harder job
preaching love?

My mother used to bake two
pillowy loaves of white bread
to take to Mormon church
for communion.

Men gingerly tore the loaves.

Everyone ate, licking their lips.

Some joked her bread was why
they came. Is bread church?
I first entered a Quaker chapel
and spun around and around,
never finding a pulpit.

Barely lifting her blouse
my mother quietly breastfed
my toddler brother in a pew
until an older man complained.
What was his definition of church?

In The Book of Mormon, only six women
have names, the rest lumped
into shapeless categories of wives,
mothers, queens or harlots.
The harlot Isabel must have been
fairly important to get a name,
though the 500-page book mentions her
only once.

Isabel, how many left their lives
to follow you?

A bored son in a long line of prophets
walked away from religious study
to sprawl underneath your bare body.
Your hair shimmering like stained glass,
your nipples as erect as steeples,
you were his teacher, in charge,
shushing him if he spoke.

Let church trail off and it sounds
like shhhh.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Marianne Kunkel: “This poem is part of a larger series of poems in which I highlight women characters in The Book of Mormon. One poem at a time, I’m reenvisioning portions of this religious text to satisfy girls and women who, as I once did, sit through Sunday school and wonder, ‘What part do I play?’” (web)

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